Dubai, UAE

International Assessments Team
Knowledge and Human Development Authority

Overview of Education System

The Emirate of Dubai has a unique education landscape, offering a complete education system for boys and girls from kindergarten through higher education, and provided free of charge for Dubai residents through public schools, colleges, and universities. Education from primary to upper middle school is universal and compulsory.

The UAE’s Ministry of Education provides policies and regulations for public and private schools, as well as services for public schools. For public schools, the Ministry is solely responsible for designing school administration structure, staff recruitment and compensation, curriculum design and improvement, and the availability of resources.1

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), an independent educational board, was established to develop the knowledge and human resource sectors in the emirate. The KHDA identifies and implements evidence-based strategies that are tailored to Dubai. The authority regulates private schools in Dubai in accordance with the general policy of the Ministry. The KHDA’s goals are to raise the quality of education to the highest international standard, to ensure the continuous development of the education sector, and to improve the quality and outcomes of education on all fronts and at all stages.2

In 2008, the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau was launched to define and measure education quality in order to support the improvement of education in Dubai, and inform improvement planning at the school and policy levels. Since 2009, significant reform has taken place at the school level, including annual school inspections every year. Inspection has been driven by key questions about the academic achievement of students, the quality of education (particularly teaching for effective learning and the learning skills of students), provisions for students with special education needs, the inclusiveness of schools, the alignment of schools’ goals with the National Agenda requirements of the UAE, and the effectiveness with which they are led and managed.3

The number of students in Dubai’s public schools has increased over the past four years by about 8 percent. Private school enrollment has expanded faster with 32 percent growth over this four year period. Dubai’s extensive private education sector accounts for approximately 90 percent of the student population (264,000 students in 173 schools).4 More children in Dubai’s private schools are in the lower grades than in the upper grades.

Some key features of the educational landscape in Dubai include the following:5,6

  • A large, increasing proportion of expatriate students (80 percent)
  • An increasing proportion of Emirati national students educated in private schools (currently 56 percent)
  • Fifteen curricula offered across the school system, including United Kingdom curricula (31 percent of students in private schools), Indian curricula (31 percent of students in private schools), and United States curricula (18 percent of students in private schools)

Languages of Instruction

The national language in the UAE, and in Dubai, is Arabic. Standard Arabic is used for printed matter, as well as for official and formal purposes, although English and several Asian languages are used widely, particularly in commerce. Statistics from 2014 estimate the population of Dubai at 2.33 million, with a significant annual growth rate.7

National Emirati citizens account for approximately 13 percent of the population, with the remainder originating from the rest of the Arab world, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East, Europe, and elsewhere. In public schools, mathematics and science are taught in Arabic, while in private schools these subjects are taught in the school’s language of instruction, which is primarily English. The multicultural nature of Dubai means that in some international schools students will be taught in English, although more than 50 languages may be spoken by students.